New drinking water rules aim to enhance safety

The past couple months have seen a slew of new rules.

Although many are related to food safety (such as two long awaited rules from the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA), drinking water safety also received an upgrade.

Announced in December, the changes overhaul the Total Coliform Rule (TCR), which has been used to evaluate the safety of water since 1989. The rule used total coliforms, a broad group of bacteria that can be found in the intestines of humans and animals, as an indicator of water safety and quality. The updated rules will now use E. coli as an indicator organism, which is more indicative of the presence of “contamination and potential harmful pathogens,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

That being said, E. coli itself can be a dangerous pathogen; while many strains are harmless, others including Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) can cause severe illness.

So why the change? The presence of coliform bacteria doesn’t necessarily mean water is unsafe (although it may denote worsening quality). However, the presence of E. coli is a huge indicator there is a problem. Should E. coli be found, the new rule requires the “immediate notification of customers,” according to Scientific American.

Total coliform testing isn’t going away though – utilities still must test for it. However, unlike the previous version of the rule, they now will have to try to find the source of the coliforms and fix it, Scientific American notes.

The updated rule affects about 154,000 public water systems that provide drinking water to roughly 307 million people, according to EPA.

The rules are set to go into effect in 2016.

To read more about the changes, click here.

For Neogen’s water testing products, click here.

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